Spaceflight and the Making of the U.S. Global

AHA Session 69
Friday, January 3, 2014: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Columbia Hall 5 (Washington Hilton)
Asif Siddiqi, Fordham University
Weather Satellites and the Ethos of Global Collaboration in the Cold War
Angelina R. Callahan, Georgia Institute of Technology
“For All Mankind”: The Global Rhetoric of America’s Space Age
Teasel Muir-Harmony, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Asif Siddiqi, Fordham University

Session Abstract

Since the late 1950s, the wide-ranging space programs of the United States—military, civil, and commercial—have occupied a distinctive place in the recent history of globalization.  In their conceptualization and practices, these programs gave the category of the “global” specific definition and importance.  Space and the global intertwined, taking on complex, varied registers of action and meaning: as geopolitical ground for confrontation, competition, and the extension of U.S. power, as well as a powerful trope for international collaboration and the promotion of universal values. This panel investigates from a “U.S. in the world” perspective the role of space exploration, space science and the space industry in proactively shaping of global cultures, markets, and scientific networks. Instead of presenting a story of the history of spaceflight, the three papers in this session explore how a range of actors- including engineers, Presidents, corporations, scientists, and government officials- employed internationalist rhetoric, and institutional and corporate collaborations to buttress American economic and political interests abroad. In addition, the papers in this session consider how these attempts were constrained or enabled by foreign publics, scientists and industrial leaders, which these American programs aimed to influence.

Angelina Callahan, PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology, will explore the motives of scientific researchers and statesmen who crafted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).  Staking out an explicitly civilian space program, policymakers reframed national security assets (meteorological satellite systems) as critical elements of a global World Weather Watch program. Smithsonian Institution historian Martin Collins will investigate how market, corporate, political and military interests converged in the 1990s with the creation of Iridium, Motorola’s global, satellite telephone system.  The global scope of system, and the government and industry bonds it fused together, reanimated questions about empire in the postcolonial world. And, Teasel Muir-Harmony (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) will look at the cultural impact of the Apollo program through an investigation of the rhetoric political actors employed to sell human space exploration as an American led, global accomplishment. By tracing the usage and various appropriations of the expression, “for all mankind,” Muir-Harmony will examine the motivations and mechanisms behind the circulation of a particular articulation of the “global.” 

By considering the proactive role that spaceflight played in the construction of the U.S. global, this session sheds light on the practices of a range of actors, and their attempts to shore up American power and leadership in the late twentieth century.  Fordham University historian Asif Siddiqi will comment on these three case studies in science, industry and culture, and reflect on their significance within the history of the U.S. in the world.

See more of: AHA Sessions